Book Review : Rectitude by Bereket Negassi - FocusU

Book Review : Rectitude by Bereket Negassi

I discovered an interesting word today: Rectitude.

Quite curious about its meaning, I looked it up right away in the dictionary, and this is what it said:

  • The quality of thinking or behaving in a correct or honest way.
  • Moral uprightness; righteousness.
  • The quality or condition of being correct in judgment.
  • The quality of being straight.

In the work we do, we often discuss the core values of our client organizations with them. Interestingly, one of the most important and most common values of organizations is Integrity – voila we are back at Rectitude! Having said that, a quick run through of the newspapers – and the spate of corporate scams, wrong doings & missteps – brings us to the dismaying conclusion that while it is much strutted in placards around corporate board rooms, in reality – it is often a scarce commodity.

How important is it to live this value?

Subroto Bagchi in his book ‘The Professional’, talks about how important it is to live with complete rectitude & honesty to become a true professional. Here is a quick synopsis of this impressive book – which in my opinion should be made compulsory reading for all professionals.

simpsonswhat would you doDoing Right, Unsupervised
Rectitude is to do the right thing, even when nobody is watching. Even organizations that have been branded as the, “Best places to Work” do have a governance department to look for rectitude issues. This is simply because, they know that even if they hire the best resources, rectitude may still be a challenge as it is quite easy to slip on this value. But the employee who truly stands by the value of honesty and integrity makes all the difference. “The two qualities, which differentiate a professional from a professionally qualified person, are: the ability to work unsupervised and the ability to certify the completion of one’s work”.

Watch out – for Power is Dangerous
There are innumerous examples in our society where people in power believe that they can go wrong and never be caught. Enron and Satyam are screaming stories of such people in power who went wrong. But the fact is justice does not see the designation or position. Even a single slip in Rectitude is dangerous; a doctor cannot misuse his position to mislead the patient for treatment; a project manager working on a project under a NDA (Non Disclosure Agreement) for a client is not supposed to share the project info to anybody outside, even with his wife; “a CEO cannot appoint his wife as a contractor of his own office and do business with her; a boss cannot take situational advantage of an emotionally distressed employee. Every profession has some code of conduct and understanding it is the boundary between a skilled individual, from a Professional”. Without rectitude a professionally qualified person is a danger to the society.

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Rectitude is Personal
It is not only important to watch for complete transparency in business transactions, rectitude should not be compromised in small things like: “using office phone for personal calls”; bringing office stationary home for personal use; printing personal content on office printer; submitting bloated reimbursement claims; etc. Even these small things, which normally go unnoticed and are treated ‘OK’, are ‘NOT OK’ and bring us down on the Rectitude scale. Now the question is how to identify these slips. Let’s see what rectitude means in the professional context.

moral dilemma - life is full of choices

Simply said it means:

  • “We follow the rules”
  • “Where rules don’t exist, we use fair judgment.”
  • “When in doubt, we don’t go ahead and do what suits us; “
  • “We seek counsel.”
  • “Finally faced with a dilemma, we ask ourselves: can my act stand in public scrutiny without causing embarrassment to me and my family?”

“If these four rules are applied, answers to the most daunting questions will present themselves and our subsequent professional conduct will always meet the highest standards of rectitude.”

Rectitude Starts Early
Although rectitude is an important value globally, “most of us in India have a very poor understanding of what constitutes rectitude. When we are children and things around us fail, we look up to our parents for value clarification. At the same time if a child has been witness to a parent giving or taking bribe or validating malpractice, the child will associate heroics with such an act. Now when the same child listens to the sermons in school about the importance of being truthful or not taking what does not belong to one, he will not actually ‘hear’ the message. One day the same child, now grown up and qualified, joins the workplace, already a cynic about the benefits of rectitude and will easily discount an organizational value.”

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Many Shades of Grey
In most of the organizations, where Integrity is a Core- Value, most of them fail to consciously articulate a shared understanding of ethical behavior. What it actually means in that particular work environment and how everyone at work should practice it ? “And in only a very few companies is ethical behavior truly non-negotiable. Organizations falter when they start looking at professional misconduct not in black and white but in shades of grey. Once you let yourself enter the grey zone, you get lost. Once confused in shades of grey, value clarification takes a back seat, for a majority of people find taking a black & white stand on a breach of rectitude an uncomfortable proposition. Some managers skirt determination of facts and let emotions cloud them. An other fear that people have is about organizational embarrassment and business loss.”

The book asks a very thought provoking question to its readers, which I want to leave you with. Lets consider the following situation:

“You have just discovered that your star salesperson has faked a travel voucher. He is negotiating a huge order. He is about to close a very valuable deal on which the company will make a lot of money. And he is the only person who has mapped the client organization. What would you do?”

old weight machine

  • “Keep quiet?
  • Warn him and let him go?
  • Warn him only after the order comes in?
  • Sack him on the spot?”


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